Sports-related activities can be an effective and enjoyable way to stimulate your spine and the muscle groups that support it. But if you have existing back pain or you’re in the process of recovering from a spine-related injury, you’ll want to be cautious with athletics. To help you get back in the game safely, here’s a rundown of good and bad sports for people living with back pain.

Back-Friendly Sports

Let’s start with sports that tend to be fairly safe for people living with back pain—or even those recovering from temporary spine-related discomfort. The goal with the sports that fall into this category is to stimulate your spine and its supporting parts in a safe way that keeps stress at a minimum.


Granted, walking isn’t usually thought of as a competitive sport in itself. Still, walking can be an effective way to target many of the same muscles you’ll need for any sport involving running, walking, or similar motions.


As a non-weight-bearing activity, swimming is a safe and effective way to work your spine-supporting muscle groups. You don’t need to be swimming for sport to enjoy the benefits of water’s natural buoyancy, either. Just avoid strokes that overstress the affected part of your spine.


Cycling can also gently stimulate your spine, as long as you’re mindful of your position (e.g., adjusting the handlebars so you don’t excessively lean forward). Cycling can include traditional bike riding or stationary bike use if you prefer more control over your motions.


Volleyball can be strenuous, but it’s also less stressful on the spine than similar activities. However, you’ll need to be cautious with jumping, blocking, and serving. Being mindful of your form and technique can help you ease stress on your spine as you make these movements.

Sports to Avoid

Now, let’s take a look at sports you’ll want to avoid if you have back pain or a history of spine-related flare-ups or you’ve recently had a surgical procedure such as TLIF. Los Angeles patients should avoid the sports mentioned on this list, depending on their specific spine-related issues.


If you’re the kicker, football may be okay to play if you have back issues. What you’ll want to avoid is any position that involves the possibility of being tackled or having direct bodily contact. If you do gradually return to football, make sure you wear properly fitting gear.


Tennis isn’t a contact sport. Still, it can be too stressful for a spine that’s healing or one with slipped discs or other issues. This stress can be especially noticeable in the trunk or mid-spine area.


Even with proper technique and form, the positions associated with golf can cause a lot of spine twisting and stress. This is especially true with anything involving the swing of a golf club.


The movements associated with gymnastics, even when a mat is used, can be really hard on several parts of the spine. Your back can also be overstressed because of the force associated with landing, running, turning, twisting, or maneuvering from one arm to the other.

It’s also a good idea to check with your doctor, physical therapist, or Los Angeles spine surgeon if you’re getting ready to get back into sports. The personalized advice you’ll get can give you a better idea of how to get active again as you live with or recover from back pain.

If you’re having severe or persistent back pain, make sure to see an experienced back pain specialist for prompt diagnosis and treatment. The industry-leading physicians at The Spine Institute are pioneers in spinal health, employing cutting-edge technology and innovative methods to enable patients to live pain-free, active lives. To schedule a personal consultation with one of our spinal health experts, give us a call today at 310-828-7757.